Essential supply transporters face problems in Sorchen

…even business operators appealed to the taskforce

Puran Gurung

The transporters of essential supplies and restaurant operators at Sorchen are in a difficult situation, and the relevant authorities are yet to give them a definite solution to the problem raised by concerned parties.

More than 100 transporters ferrying essential supplies to the rest of the country from Phuentsholing particularly Sorchen have been crying foul over the unavailability of meals along the highways and also requesting the government to keep restaurants open at Sorchen. They have also no proper place to rest at the designated place, Sorchen. A directive from the Southern COVID-19 Taskforce (SC19TF) suspended businesses at Sorchen through a circular on February 7.

SC19TF also said in their directive that it will explore and facilitate takeaway for drivers to minimize the risk of COVID-19, however, transporters say it is yet to be implemented.

They say that due to long waiting hours for the vehicles to return to Sorchen after sending to Phuentsholing, they have no place to eat food and they have to go on empty stomachs for long hours.

Transporters involved in the transhipment have been requesting the SC19TF to facilitate takeaways for them at the earliest, however, SC19TF has not responded to them.

The vehicles are sent to Phuentsholing to load essential supplies by around 6:30 am to 7:00 am and it returns only by evening, and sometimes, it takes even longer.

Cooking at the transhipment facility at Sorchen is also not feasible, according to the transporters owing to the scarcity of water. For water, they say they have to fetch it walking more than five kilometers. Though there are other restaurants along the highways it is away from the transhipment facility at Sorchen.

On the proper resting place, the transporters told Bhutan TODAY that most of the time they have to hold the night at Sorchen. When there were hotels in the area, they were easily accommodated in the lodges that the hotels own, however, with the business closure, they are sleeping with the bare minimum of protection from the cold. They have hung some clothes and cartoons nearby the makeshift structures and sleep there.

Many of the transporters said that the businesses at Sorchen is really critical because stopping at other restaurants along the highways mainly transporters, people get scared to welcome them. They also said that the food is cheaper at restaurants at Sorchen. “We can even get meals on credit, and pay them after a month. Sometimes, when we run short of cash for fuel, they give us cash too,” said a transporter. They say it is very convenient for them to eat at these restaurants at Sorchen.

The transporters also shared a video with Bhutan TODAY where they were stuck at Dochu la during the snowfall and the snow clearance work took about three days. Even during those times, they had to sleep in their vehicles and only munch snacks for the whole duration.

The eight restaurant owners at Sorchen have been directed by the Southern COVID-19 Taskforce (SC19TF) to move away from Sorchen till a time the pandemic situation in the area improves.

Earlier, they had come to Sorchen to operate the business on the makeshift structures built by the taskforce through a quotation sent by the taskforce and eight of them got the chance to operate the business in the area.

A circular from the Gedu COVID-19 Taskforce (GC19TF) suspended the operations of the eight businesses at Sorchen till the situation improves. The circular was sent on February 9 and it notifies the business owners to return to their place of residence by February 13. The circular further states that failure to cooperate will result in not allowing operations of the restaurants in the future and demolition of the structure by the GC19TF.   

Few business owners in Sorchen are from red zones as well as red buildings in Phuentsholing and they are not able to return to Phuentsholing. Even if they are able to return to their respective residence, they have already surrendered their homes to the owners.

If they were to leave, they would have to take everything they have invested into the shop, and that is not only difficult but in a way, not possible and there are high chances it will cause damage to their shop materials as they faced similar situations in the past while transporting.

They are still requesting the SC19TF to allow them to stay in their respective shops at Sorchen to guard their makeshift structures and also the shop materials, even if the taskforce allows one of them to stay in the shop, it is alright for them. They say that it is very uncomfortable to take out things and transport them.

However, they also said that they don’t want to stay for business purposes and that they understand the situation the country is undergoing and they are ready to extend cooperation to the fullest.

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